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ASML innovates with the future in mind

To work with extreme specifications to build a machine that meets the requirements that are still years ahead from now. For ASML’s engineers, it’s everyday’s business. They follow the in 1965 invented Moore’s Law, that serves as the heartbeat for technological evolution that manufacturers of microchips, ASML’s customers, strive for. So, ASML basically has a glass sphere that predicts what its lithography machines should be able to do. However, the development of these machines requires ASML to venture on technological adventures – expeditions that often seem impossible, but are ever surprising.

Those adventures of development demands from ASML’s engineers a strong mindset: to keep believing that you can make the impossible possible. To see setbacks as challenges and to practice solution-oriented thinking. Exactly this mindset lays the groundwork for one of the most complex machines that was ever made by men: the EUV system.

Figure 1: NXE3400 Simplified

Figure 1: NXE3400 Simplified

Engineers as inventors

Twenty years ago the starting point was that lithography machines should be able to use light with a wavelength of 13.5nm around the year 2020. The technology to do so didn’t exist, basically everything had to be thought up. So ASML’s engineers from different fields of expertise started to think up ideas and invent technologies themselves.

It’s goes without saying that they needed to find answers to complex questions. Because how will you generate this light in the first place? How do you increase the energy density to the levels that you need? What kind of optics do you need to conduct and guide the light? And how do you create those optics at all? What ‘mask’ do you need to make the chips’ pattern? How can you make the moving parts of the machine (the ‘stages’) actually move fast enough? And how do you deal with the heat that’s produced during those immense high speeds? How can you meet the precision requirements for your servo systems? And when you’ve found all of those answers: who can build those parts? How do you build, test, integrate, ship and install all this extremely sensitive equipment?

It may not surprise you that many industry veterans predicted that ASML would fail to build a machine that did not only work, but that would also meet all the specifications to make a success story of EUV.

Extreme innovation

The answers were found with creativity and the courage to research ideas anyways, no matter how out-of-the-box they seemed. By taking calculated risks. With an adamant belief and incredible amount of faith, supported and sustained by the freedom to fail and experiment, thus pioneering on and stretching the limits of what’s physically possible. And then, twenty years and 15.000 patents later, this resulted in the birth of the EUV machine, a system that will never cease to amaze you and that keeps even the best engineer wondering how it’s possible that a machine like this actually works. What to think of:

  • The generation of EUV light by shooting 50,000 tin droplets (of 30 micrometer) with a laser. Twice!
  • Stages that accelerate 10 times fasters than a Formula 1 car, and still move with an accuracy of less than a nanometer;
  • Dynamic measurements of distance with a picometer resolution and temperature management with a precision of millikelvins;
  • Optics that are polished to atom levels
  • Overlay (placement of layers) with a precision of 1 nanometer (approximately 5 Si atoms) on a wafer.

Production and maintenance

The list of technological miracles seem endless. What’s more: an EUV machine has to be able to perform 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at the customer’s sites, with a little time loss for maintenance. Only the teamwork of thousands of engineers with one goal in mind – to build the most advanced machine in the world – can take credit for it. And now that we know how EUV machines can be built, we’ll move on to the next challenge. Because Moore’s Law waits for no one!



ASML provides chipmakers with hardware, software and services to mass produce patterns on silicon, helping to build the electronic devices that keep us informed, entertained and connected.